The other day, I received an email. This is not, in and of itself, news. Not bragging, but I get upwards of three emails a day. Jealous? But this particular email, the one that brought on this out-of-nowhere blog update, was surprising for a handful of reasons. Firstly, it was from Club Fandango, a cabal of indie promoters in London from whom I’ve not heard in over a decade, since I left the U.K. So it was kind of jarring to see that I’ve suddenly been added to their press list. More significantly, the email itself was to inform me that Ultrasound are playing the Scala in London on October 4th, and did I want to be on the press list. Now, you have to understand: Ultrasound released one insane album in 1999 and then broke up. So this was some unexpected news. Also, the email contained a link to a stream of the band’s new record, ‘Play For Today’, which is out in the U.K. this week. They’re back!
Let’s jump back. In 1997, I bought the band’s debut 7-inch, on Fierce Panda Records. I still have it, and pray that one day it’ll be worth millions. The lead track, ‘Same Band’, was an energetic call-to-arms. Now, I never felt like an outcast or particularly out-of-touch or anything as a high schooler, but this song still really spoke to me. The band was led by a giant man nicknamed Tiny, and they all looked like misfits. It seemed appropriate that their debut should be a rabble-rousing tribute to being an outsider. “We’re in the same band” goes the chorus, but it’s more like a gang. It’s okay, they’re saying. You’re one of us now.
On the other side of the vinyl, though, was something even better. ‘Floodlit World’ is just effortlessly gorgeous, anthemic and lovely. When bass player Vanessa Best joins in on the chorus it still gives me chills. Here’s a video of the band performing ‘Floodlit World’ on Jools Holland - there’s some seriously crap visual effects going on here.
If the band could put two fantastic songs on their first release, imagine the potential they had for the future. With this in mind, several labels jostled for their signatures, with Nude Records, the home of Suede and, um, Sharkboy, ultimately prevailing. Their first release for Nude was a single called ‘Best Wishes’, which was so-so, but goddamned if its b-side ‘Kurt Russell’ isn’t one of my all-time favourite songs by any band. Again, it has an unimpeachably uplifting and inspiring chorus. He sings “I want to be your hero; Kurt Russell, Eastwood and me” and everyone’s hearts break.
After this came yet another stunner. ‘Stay Young’, which used to open the band’s live shows, was a huge anthem. It’s about being young and having fun. There’s a part near the beginning where he sings “Hey, kids, rock and roll is here, so scream all you like” and then everyone in the crowd would scream. The chorus is massive. This band was on a roll.
The one and only time I saw Ultrasound live was supporting Pulp at Finsbury Park in July 1998. (Also playing: Add N To (X), Bentley Rhythm Ace, Bernard Butler, Catatonia). Ultrasound went on in the glorious early-afternoon sunshine and won most of the crowd over. I remember ‘Stay Young’ being incredible, and being annoyed that they didn’t play ‘Kurt Russell’. They did, however, play another b-side. This one is called ‘Football Meat’, is mental, and the chorus involves yelling the word “Fuckface.”
After that, there was a bit of a gap. They released ‘Floodlit World’ as a single and it followed ‘Stay Young’ into the Top 40. In April 1999, the band’s debut album ‘Everything Picture’ came out, and let’s just say, it was a piece of work. Two discs. The final, title track, lasted almost forty minutes. Not surprisingly, it was - and remains - tough to digest. In addition to the songs with which we were already familiar, there were a couple of new ones to admire. ‘Fame Thing’ addressed celebrity culture and obsession with impressive energy and noisiness…
…while ‘Suckle’ was proggy and meandering with fantastic sweeping guitarwork…
…but for the most part, the album kind of left fans a little cold. Credit the band for making the tripped-out album that they wanted to make, but it wasn’t a particularly fun listen. Mere months after the album’s release, the band called it a day. The keyboard player started a new band, and they released a single which got a decent amount of airplay on XFM.
And then, well, nothing. I didn’t really think of Ultrasound much in the aughts. I might have put ‘Kurt Russell’ on a mixtape or two. But then this email, and this new record, which, in a nice example of circularity, is being put out by Fierce Panda. I’ve not listened all the way through yet, but so far only the opening track, ‘Welfare State’, has really grabbed me. It’s more political than the band used to be, but that’s understandable given the times in which we now live. The transition from verse to chorus is huge. This video edit is a lot shorter than the album version, which has an annoying minute or so of feedback in the middle, suggesting that the band could still do with an editor. I love the lyric “We’ve been away for a while, but we were never in style”.
The other pre-release single is called ‘Beautiful Sadness’ and it might be a grower. Nice video, though.
Ultrasound, then. An insane hodgepodge of various parts that shouldn’t mesh together, and yet somehow they do. Good to have them back - hopefully version 2 will see them become world-conquering megastars and I’ll be to retire on the back of my ‘Same Band’ 7”.